- The government of Niger is again accused of trying to censor international reporting on a growing hunger crisis in the poor Sahelian country. Nigerien authorities withdrew accreditation last week from a 'BBC' television crew after it reported on hunger in the central region of Maradi and has forbidden officials to talk to the media about the food situation, journalists claim.
The British state broadcaster 'BBC' reported Tuesday that the government in Niamey withdrew permission for its team to continue reporting on the humanitarian situation after it broadcast a story on hunger in Maradi, which was badly hit by famine last year. Reports from the Nigerien region strongly indicate that a new hunger crisis is developing here.
The BBC's South Africa-based crew said it found many people who faced food shortages in Maradi, "including one family where parents and children had not eaten for three days." It quoted local officials as saying international and local media would not be allowed to do stories about the food situation as they did not want that subject covered.
Sources in Niger claim that government officials had insisted that the 'BBC' team had been granted visas to cover the current bird flu outbreak and that they had exceeded their authorisation. Government spokesman Mohamed Ben Omar told 'Radio France Internationale' today that any journalist was free to come to Niger but that "telling stories that are not true is another matter."
Also last year, Niamey authorities sought to repress local coverage of a developing nation-wide famine for fear that the news would tarnish the country's image, according to the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA). In early August 2005, President Mamadou Tandja publicly denied the existence of famine in Niger, despite widespread media reports and a vast international aid campaign.
Reports of this new attempt to censor reports on a potential famine in the Maradi region have caused widespread concern. International humanitarian agencies are worried that famine could recur in the coming months, but the Niger government says there is no food crisis, and could thus delay donations for a potential hunger relief operation. Last year, the public denial of Niamey officials strongly contributed to the very late start of aid flows to Niger.
Also press freedom organisations are concerned. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today said it was "alarmed by Niger's attempt to censor coverage of hunger and malnutrition." The organisation had spoken to representatives of the BBC and local media. Attempts to get comments from the government were however unsuccessful, the group reported today.
"We are deeply troubled by this censorship of news, which is of pressing concern for the international community and the people of Niger," said CPJ Director Ann Cooper. "It is shocking that the government of Niger would put its desire to protect its image ahead of the desperate needs of its own citizens. The government must allow full and unfettered coverage of the humanitarian needs of the population," she demanded.
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